“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,” so the story goes in Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities.
I’ve often thought I need to lift the standard of this blog from the murky depths of ska music, Birmingham City, karaoke, Thomas The Tank Engine, Loose Women on ITV and Mick Channon windmill goal celebrations.
So what better than a little bit of prose from the only book I can remember reading during my English ‘O’ Level..this is about as literary as I get as I’d much rather read an Irvine Welsh novel these days.
Nevertheless, Dickens could have been describing a gloriously frosty night in Wirksworth as opposed to the French revolution as my two drinking buddies and I discovered “A Tale of two pubs.”
However, before I go on I can reveal that one of these boozers is in fact in the 2017 GBG unbeknown to my good self.
Wirksworth is a small town (cheers Mudgie) in the Derbyshire Dales with some proper local shops as opposed to huge chain stores but if Martin arrives before noon, as is his wont, he might struggle, even if Mrs RM goes shopping to fill eight hours before heading off to 105 – The Royal Oak DE4 4FG.
Seven nights a week this place opens from eight till midnight apart from an extra Sunday session from 12-4, but it appears to have created the perfect storm.
The term backstreet boozer was invented for a place like this on the outskirts of the town as it is nestled in between lots of grit stone houses that are peppered all over the Dales and was absolutely packed when we arrived at around 9.30.
I don’t have a GBG so I don’t know which boozers are in or not but a bit of posthumous research showed that this is one of Derbyshire’s entries. Apparently longstanding licensees retired in the not too distant past but it looks as though the current incumbents (I know it’s Jim Angus because it says so on the sign above the entrance) have kept the same recipe as the locals are flocking here.
(a remarkable selection of keyrings!) (who says the age range is a typical GBG pub?!)
There is basically one main room, a smaller room with a pool table and the added bonus of outside toilets, which is always a character test on a sub-zero Wednesday evening! They breed them tough in Wirksworth though and tradition is obviously appreciated and everyone was in good spirits with a friendly welcoming atmosphere and a tremendous array of bric-a-brac
Which was a good job, as there was a decent queue at the bar, almost like a Saturday night in a city centre… but it was worth the wait with a nice drop of Moonshine (Abbeydale) that helped with the all-round ambience.
So if this was the best of times then earlier in the evening we visited 106 – The Blacks Head DE4 4EG then that might be going through the worst of times.
Which is a shame as, to all intents and purposes, it is a pub that is just as good as the Oak but it just had no one in it! At about 8.15 on a Wednesday night there was just one bloke, our party of three and the barmaid. That’s it.
I often wonder what it is that means one pub has punters and another doesn’t when there is not a lot to choose between them, as this is set in an 18th Century building and looks the part.
It’s open for 13 hours a day as opposed to just four, so it might be that the clientele is more spread out over the day (not sure about that one really) as opposed the Royal Oak with its four hours of heaving atmosphere and drinkers…a bit like a drinking version of the Mount Pleasant Inn in Repton (pub 46).
We asked the only other punter where the name originates from and he reckoned it was to do with the dark beers that were brewed and drunk in this region, but he didn’t hang around for much longer after that and we had the place to ourselves.
Maybe it was the lack of atmosphere that stopped punters coming in? Maybe they were all at home watching Manchester City nick a win over Southampton on Sky Sports? Maybe they were reading Charles Dickens novels? Maybe it was the old pub sign that now adorns the walls inside that was putting them off?
We couldn’t put our finger on it as it was a decent boozer and I had a good pint of Original Bitter (Morland) but when we walked back to the car at 10.15 it was shut. Yes, shut up shop 45 minutes early along with another pub we saw (The Wheatsheaf) which leads me to believe there may not be room for lots of boozers in modern-day Wirksworth although The Feather Star (so good it gets its own post soon) was also heaving and open.
What is the X-Factor that separates darkness and light, good from bad (don’t worry, I will be back to punk rock and Championship football soon) and means one pub is full and another isn’t?
According to one sage in the Star it was a simple as, “The Royal Oak is a great boozer really traditional. People seem to have stopped going to the Blacks Head as much, I don’t know why.”
There you have it, conclusive proof that there is no rhyme or reason for pubs of a similar nature to thrive or flop!
However, the beauty of pub going is that I could go on another night and the roles might, just might be reversed or both of these boozers might be full to capacity.
Maybe we are heading back to a time before 24/7 opening when people only had a shorter timespan to drink as the Royal Oak proved that less is most definitely more.
The good news for Martin, Duncan and Si is that I have managed to find a bus service for them to explore the delights of the Dales and check out a gem of a boozer (see opening picture/poster). If you get there too early maybe you could pop into the Blacks Head for a livener as I am sure they would be glad to see you.
They’ve even put the festive decorations up so don’t delay…